I wrote last time about the pros and cons of technology in the K-12 classroom but wanted to go a little more in depth about the idea of technology as a tool or teacher’s assistant and how it functions in the classroom and whether it’s a help or hindrance. I also wanted to touch more on the challenge of screen time and what research is referring as “too much”. This is the biggest ‘con’ in many arguments of allowing tech in the classroom. Some argue that tech as a teacher’s assistant isn’t helpful because of the effects of screen time and possible problems arising from tech use in the classroom and at home. If there is a limit of what is ‘too much’ how can we reconcile how tech is so beneficial in so many ways with negative effects of screen time on children.
I am really passionate about this topic and welcome any comments, questions or criticisms this post brings up! My passion comes from first being a parent to an 11 year old that is starting to use technology a lot (sometimes a little too much lol). But more than that as a volunteer in schools that teach technology and as a teacher at multiple universities I studied in during my PhD and my post-doc. I believe that technological education is lacking in our society. We need to enhance it in order to make sure that the equality we so strongly believe in will be possible. As we move forward, those who ‘can’ (i.e. the creators) when it comes to tech and those who ‘can’t’ (i.e. the users) will not be two different societies. The users will be at a disadvantage and this is not ok! And we can make sure this doesn’t happen!
Technology as a tool for teachers in the classroom.
What if we treat technology just as a tool for the educators and not just for the children? Joe Klein, former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, is in favor of tablets in the classroom. He says, “As everybody knows, in a class of 25 children, you can have some who are really moving ahead quickly, some in the middle and some who are lagging behind. And what a tablet enables the teacher to do is customize the learning experience. So in that sense, it’s really a digital assistant for the teacher.”
I believe this point isn’t about tech “as the language of the future”, but rather takes technology to the level it needs to be in: as a tool. There is a fundamental problem of education – too many kids in a classroom and not enough resources to make sure every kid, at every level, is being given the instruction and time they need to really excel. Using tech as a tool, or as a teacher’s assistant if you will, allows the teacher to engage with all their students equally.
Let’s break this down for a sec. Thinking of technology as a resource is not a novel idea and talking about educational resources is a given in any educational debate. Connecting the two and moving the focus from the use of the student of technology to the use by the teacher of technology is a novel and great idea.
Teachers hopefully use an abundance of resources to get knowledge to students. This includes obviously books, but also hands on sessions, experiments, movies, field trips and so forth. In spite of that technology is considered a knowledge unit of its own. You have “computer lessons” the technology literacy classes in K-12 schools. But let’s take technology out of its separate knowledge unit and embed it throughout the learning experience. That is, after all, what we do as adults. We use technology as a tool to do the things we are interested in doing.
The idea is to look at how the technology can help us get the educational knowledge to the students and not as an objective in and of itself. This will teach our children that computers and technology are merely tools and not an end to itself. So we are using an amazing resource on one hand and also teaching a valuable lesson on the other. Win win win!
How can we use technology as a means to an end? How can it act as the teacher’s assistant?
Having the ability to tailor assignments to specific kids at their ‘perfect’ level allows them the benefit of receiving the help and connection they need to be successful. It also allows the teacher to spend their time where it’s needed most. After all there is no technology that can replace the personal contact of a teacher understanding where the student is struggling. While you could argue that this can be accomplished without tech, tech offers the added bonus of help, direction and guidance within the technology itself, that a paper assignment can’t always offer. The fact that technology can provide that is amazing!
Not only can programs on a tablet or computer provide an almost tutor like experience for a student, it allows students who are home sick or have missed class to be a part of what is going on still in the classroom, participate and catch-up. The tech aspect of a tablet, or online learning spaces, is that it allows the lessons and material to be reinforced to make learning more effective. A means to an end. Merely a tool.
There has been a lot written and discussed about ‘blended learning’ and transitioning writing and discussion assignments to an online space, where students already feel comfortable and where students can comment, discuss and contribute in a way they can’t in a classroom. Some students are shy and don’t like speaking in public or need time to think and process something before being ready to discuss. Having an online space allows every personality to contribute in their best possible way and leaves the actual classroom time open for a teacher to engage individually with students, do a fun activity related to the lesson and leaves some of the editing, discussion, assignment doing, etc to the online space that students can complete out of the limited class time they have.
Using tech as a tool includes supplementing traditional paper and book resources for kids. An online space provides an opportunity to link copies of historical documents, photos and videos can be viewed that relate and enhance the material in textbooks. With tech not a separate entity but just another HUGE and diverse resource, it becomes the fabric of our education, not just a side note.
The fact that technology expands the classroom and the ability to discuss, relate with one another, make comments not just to the 50 minute (or so) classroom period, but to all the time, really allows a teacher a lot of freedom to offer a variety of assignments, hear from their students and give thoughtful feedback!
It will be fascinating to see how the pioneers of technology in the classroom will refine how this should look and spread this new way of teaching to the rest of the country and the world.
It’s not secret that public education, especially, but all education has a host of problems – large class sizes, lack of quality materials, lack of access and resources to these tech devices, etc. These issues will probably always exist, but technology offers a new and largely untried solution or way to improve upon these aspects that are lacking and truly empower and educate this next generation.
I look forward to seeing our progress and being a part of this change!